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Self-Discovery at the Heart of 'Humaine'

Works by Renee Amitai in the Orlando Gallery exhibit suggest a search for identity.


Renee Amitai calls her current exhibition at the Orlando Gallery "La Condition Humaine," but the human condition at issue is struggling to find itself, like the art. Which is not to say that her art lacks strength or conviction: The search for identity, and for spiritual grounding, is the subject.

Roughly speaking, the show is divided among strictly abstract paintings, figurative prints and, most memorably, the in-betweens. These are dense paintings in which human forms of various sorts melt into, or out of, clarity.

In several of her large paintings, the line between figure and abstract texture is a broad, slippery one. Her self-portraits are loosely rendered faces that act as templates for scattered imagery--they are portraits of the artist as both curious and confused.

Ghostly visages lurk just beyond the surface, and beyond the point of recognition, to different expressive ends. "La Vie en Rose vue par Edith Piaf" has a nostalgic patina, the visual equivalent of a Piaf recording heard in an echo chamber. In "La Belle et la Bete," humanity and beastliness peacefully coexist, and in "Warrior Song," the figure is enshrouded in a bluish fog and is ambiguous both formally and sexually, with anatomical elements from both genders.

Amitai's abstract paintings harness energy and mystery of a subtle type, with a soft, nonabrasive melding of form and color. Abstract Expressionist-like tempests and idylls suggest the influence of natural forces, confirmed by titles such as "Sunset Mystery" and "Flame of Life."

But, considering the total effect of her work here, the title that best sums it up might be "Breaking the Enclosed Darkness." Amitai appears to be actively engaged in the process of self-discovery, and these are some impressive field reports.

* "La Condition Humaine," art by Renee Amitai, through Friday at the Orlando Gallery, 14553 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks. Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; (818) 789-6012.

Faculty Showing: School's in. It's in the air, and it's in the galleries of local academia, cranking into gear after the lean weeks of summer. The temporary building housing the art gallery at Cal State Northridge--call it an art big top--opened its season with an in-house exhibition by faculty artists, and the goods are all over the map of style and medium, in a healthy way.

The diversity underscores the notion that, in art, there are many correct paths to expression. Landscape art ranges from Tom Fricano's deceptively calm vistas to Bruce Everett's "Santa Susana Dusk," the twinkly web of lights in the San Fernando Valley as seen from behind the epic boulders on its northern rim. Donal Lumpert uses earth to express his vision, building up a tactile, abstract surface from sand, brick, stone, coal and roplex.

Among the other paintings on display, highlights include Joy von Wolffersdorff's "Vietnam #1," a portrait of a veteran whose unclad torso is imprinted with a camouflage pattern, like the haunting residue of war. From the fantasy end of the spectrum, we find Laurel Long's finely detailed illustrations.

The photographic medium has a notably strong presence in the show. Arthur Takayama shows his sensitive studies of nudes, in pristinely articulated tones, and Robert von Sternberg revels in strange, intimate lighting. Karl Kuehn presents surreal urban-scapes, depicting such architectural landmarks as the Capitol Records building and the Pan Pacific Theater as if viewed from the inside out, as reconstructed by aliens.

Conceptualism has a field day here. Diane Calder has an overtly feminist statement to make with "Cover Up," a large stretch of white fabric dealing with the tradition of prudish censorship in art history.

The deadpan title tells all in Tom McCourt's "Sixty-Five Bullets and Their Destinations." Cheryl Dullabaun's "Unseen, Unheard" is a high shelf with framed photographs of cryptic architectural details and ambiguous spaces. The work seems to celebrate the quietude of the peripheral.

Jack Reilly is a handy multimedia conceptualist with something to say about nature and the nature of human perception in an info-glutted world. "Bird's Eye View" is a noisy assemblage consisting of a pedestal on which sits a gold-leafed bird with a blinking red light for an eye. It also entails a tiny video screen and an audio loop of scattered sound bites, including the pathological rantings of Travis Bickle (the character from "Taxi Driver.") Like Bickle, we all sometimes allow delusions to take the wheel.

Reilly also shows fairly traditional landscape paintings with the frames tilted at 45 degrees to form a diamond, then placed on waste products. In all these pieces, life and reality have gone askew and the natural order seems to be in peril. It's not a new theme, but the artist has a clever and distinctive approach.

* Faculty art exhibit, through Sept. 28 at the Cal State Northridge Art Gallery, 18111 Nordhoff St. in Northridge. Gallery hours: noon-4 p.m. Monday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; (818) 677-2226.

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